A Marion County Circuit Court judge recently ruled that Oregon's largest labor union has violated a number of state laws concerning the operation of non-profit corporations. This is the latest development in long-running civil litigation between the union and one of its former presidents.
The former president initially sued Oregon's Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union in 2007 when the union denied him $110,000 in overtime pay. This eventually lead to complaints about the way the union treats members, conducts meetings and handles other corporate issues. The case has been widely followed in Oregon, as Local 503 is the state's largest union with 55,000 members. The union is also known for its significant political clout. In 2012, Local 503 spent over $2 million on local and state political campaigns.
In late June, a judge accused Local 503 of "regular, sustained and ongoing violations of state laws." Specifically, the judge accused the union of keeping information from members, skipping important annual meetings and illegally attempting to change its structure. The former president accused the union of "acting more like a secret society than a member-run organization."
Union leadership denies such accusations of wrongdoing. A former board member stressed that all Local 503 members are invited to become involved with governing the union, while Local 503's attorney explained that the body follows "quite elaborate democratic procedures" in the way it makes decisions and sets policy. The attorney and representatives with the Union have classified the lawsuit as a technical lawsuit over legal formalities that does not directly involve members services.
The case is expected to have dramatic repercussions in part due to a proposed state initiative known as the Public Employee Choice Act, which would eliminate the obligation for workers in union-represented jobs to either join the union or pay annual dues.
Oregon Live, "Oregon's largest union grapples with messy lawsuit from former president" Jeff Mapes, Aug. 04, 2013